Bipolar disorder (also called manic depression or manic depressive disorder), characterizes the state of someone who is undergoing extensive mood swings. The subject effectively oscillates between episodes of frenzy (known as mania), and depression. The frenzy is typically characterized by very high energy, and exaggerated excitement. At a peak level of mania, an individual can exhibits violent behavior. These manic episodes are sometimes mixed with depressive stages, and then back to normal mood all over again. The severe forms of manic episodes sometimes lead to hallucinations and delusions
So next time someone asks you: what is a bipolar disorder, you are now better prepared to explain it; at least give them an overview of what it is.
How prevalent is Bipolar Disorder?
Manic depression affects about 4% of people globally (at one point or the other of their lives). The condition is prevalent in both men and women alike; and with no predominance in one culture or ethnic group, versus another.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Causes of manic depression are not entirely known. However, it’s safe to say that genetic, environmental and neurochemical factors all play a role in triggering this condition.
Genetic causes: Manic depression tends to run in the family. About 50% of people who have exhibited signs of bipolar disorder mentioned they had at least one family member with mood disorder. In fact, according to research, someone who has a parent suffering from the disease has a 15 to 25% chance of contracting the condition too. Someone with an identical twin has more than 25% chance of suffering from the condition.
Environmental causes: Mood disorders can also be caused by life events. For example, drug and/or alcohol abuse, and hormonal shifts can all contribute to trigger an episode of manic depression.
Neurochemical causes: Bipolar disorder occurs as a result of the failure of certain chemical messengers (i.e. neurotransmitters) in the brain. These neurotransmitters include norepinephrine, serotonin, and select others. This condition can lie dormant in an individual, and only be activated by stress and other social circumstances (such as death in the family, a traumatic event, etc).
Treatment of Manic Depression
Bipolar disorder can be managed through psychotherapy and/or medication. Note the word “manage”, as this condition is rarely treated for good.
Psychotherapy: This technique is aimed at easing the core symptoms of mood disorder, quickly identifying the very items that trigger it, and working at reducing negative emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective at preventing relapse. Essentially, Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the premise that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events
Medication: These medications are known as mood stabilizers as they attempt to reverse the episodes and prevent relapses. Lithium carbonate treatment has been documented to reduce the risk of suicide by a wide margin. Lamotrigine is another medication that has shown some efficacy. Olanzapine can also be used to prevent relapses. On the other hand, antidepressants are not effective at providing any benefits as far as mood stabilization is concerned.
Finally, omega-3 fatty acids, used in combination with pharmacological treatments, have been proven to reduce depressive symptoms.